How to Get the Resources and Support You Need

If you’re getting comments like these, you’re not alone. For those in the reliability field with a technical background, it can be frustrating. Your response might be, “The numbers in the spreadsheets are clear. Why is it so hard to get support from the executive team?”

Although your work is backed by hard science and a solid body of work, the fact is many others in the company may not have a good picture of what maintenance reliability professionals do to contribute to its success.

Why is it so hard to get support
from the executive team?

This article gives you some ideas on how you can demonstrate the value of your work and that of your team’s in order to get acceptance and support from the rest of the organization. As a result, your recommendations get followed, you get the staff and budget you need, and you’re seen as a team player.

Learn to Talk Their Language

Each profession has its own terms of reference, values and jargon. One of your first steps is to learn to communicate your ideas in the frame of reference of the person you are working with. Members of the finance department will talk about costs, profitability and other financial issues. Human resources people will want to know about staffing requirements. Operations team members want to talk in terms of availability of equipment, planned versus unplanned downtime, event impacts on production and any way you can help them meet their productivity and quality targets.

And then there’s a common language. For example, consider the definition of reliability. Most people will define it as meaning, “What I expect to happen, happens.” Most people will recognize that this is only the case if conditions are right. You can use analogies they will recognize from their own lives. For example, with their own car, they understand they can expect it to operate smoothly as long as they don’t drive it at the redline all the time or skip service appointments.

Stepping out of your comfort zone and into theirs may be a challenge, but the key is good preparation so that you’re confident in your message. Here’s an example of this approach in action:

The predictive maintenance (PdM) group of a major oil company worked in the harsh environment of the oil sands of northern Alberta, Canada. The group held regular meetings with people in other departments. These people are responsible for some of the biggest mobile equipment (e.g., trucks, shovels, bulldozers, graders, etc.) in the world. Taking down a truck or other asset for an hour of maintenance is a big deal. So, in the weekly meetings, the PdM group went over the current issues and how they could be addressed, building rapport with the maintenance managers, as well as the frontline staff. These department representatives grew to have confidence in what the PdM group was recommending and this confidence grew as the group incorporated the departments’ feedback into its recommendations. They came to see that taking down a haul truck to check some worrisome diagnostic reports, even if nothing wrong was found, was much better than having it fail in the field or in the shop for major repair.

Build Credibility That Comes From Results

The acceptance and credibility you need comes from building a track record of success. Year-over-year statistics help, showing the results of processes followed and how maintenance costs have changed over time. Show that the availability of assets is going up and demonstrate that this is because you’re monitoring for adverse conditions and resolving them before they manifest themselves as a catastrophic failure.

While spreadsheets may be easy for you to understand, it’s much better presenting this sort of data in chart form. Also, be sure to put the data in terms your listeners will understand, such as availability, dollars saved and staff hours.

Proving Your Worth When Things Go Wrong

Generally, many reliability initiatives start when things get bad, such as cost overruns, unplanned downtime, component failures and, sometimes, safety incidents or even fatalities.

However, equipment failures can be some of the best possible opportunities to show your worth. Perhaps you identified the problem before, but the maintenance or operations manager didn’t want to bring the equipment down for operations reasons or to meet the productivity target for the month. The equipment continued to operate and the “unforeseen” failure occurred.

You need to make the best of these learning opportunities. Document the course of the failure, including any warning signs that were ignored. Take pictures of what the equipment looks like when torn apart, such as gears missing teeth or a shaft torn in half. Photos and visual indicators really help, particularly when working with people with nontechnical backgrounds. Images and video are easy to take with a standard smartphone and incorporate into your presentations or written communications.

In this manner, you can convey the issue to the technical and nontechnical management team members, showing where the symptoms developed, how the failure progressed and the consequences. Show how the failure impacted the downstream processes and how this affected production. Describe the impact in dollar terms and how this is reflected in payroll and bonuses. Additionally, describe the implications for overtime, safety, the need to bring in contractors and the need to rent equipment.

Figure 1
Figure 1: Sometimes visual evidence is best for convincing others in the organization about the importance of a good reliability program, such as this damaged spiral bevel gear (Image courtesy of Fluid Life).

 

This helps you to demonstrate your grasp of the situation, show how you could have prevented it and why your recommendations should be followed in the future.

Bring in the Science, Carefully

Many of the people you need to convince have professional backgrounds in nontechnical fields, such as finance, accounting and law. They may see maintenance reliability as a black box.

So, you need to explain to them the science involved in what you do. This helps you deal with comments and questions, like those at the beginning of this article, particularly, “Our equipment doesn’t break down much, so how do we know we’re not spending too much on reliability functions?” Short of pulling out your hair pointing out that it’s your work that helps keep that equipment humming smoothly, you may be able to point to some of the science behind your team’s work.

This includes diagnostics, such as oil analysis and showing how laboratory studies of lubricant samples can reveal potential problems, including how much wear material has built up in the oil and contamination from fuel or coolant. A good laboratory can do a comparison between unused lubricant and the sample drawn from your machine, or compare samples drawn from similar equipment elsewhere.

Sometimes, Less Is More

One of the key success factors in implementing reliability measures is striking a balance between too much and too little maintenance. Each time a machine is opened up for servicing, there is the potential for causing new problems, such as dust and grit entering uncapped hydraulic hoses that have been left on the floor, incorrect or worse quality parts being installed, or new parts installed incorrectly.

As such, members of other departments may be surprised if you recommend fewer service related shutdowns than they had expected. But, if you are watching diagnostics, such as run temperature and vibration, closely and using fluid analysis effectively, less service can lead to increased reliability.

In short, it’s important for those in the reliability field to have a solid grasp of the technical aspects of success. But, not ignoring the soft skills, such as communication, will help give you the resources needed to do your work effectively.


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